Nestled in the northern corner of Glaciar National Park, El Chaltén is a tiny Argentinian town and a hiker’s paradise. A four-hour bus ride north of El Calafate, during the summer months, tourism is the main industry but come winter when blankets of white move in there are only 300 permanent residents. The best part about it, once you get here you can do everything on a friendly budget. Unlike its southern neighbor, El Calafate, the trekking trails of El Chaltén are completely free. Essentially making it one of the best-kept hiking secrets of Argentine Patagonia.
Cerro Torre, Cerro Poincenot, and the beautiful Monte Fitz Roy mountain peaks stand watch over the town. When the clouds clear, this famous skyline is backlit by the most beautiful blue sky so that mountains stand on one side of town while glacier fed lakes and rivers encircle the other. The town consists of a handful of homes and a main street lined with a variety of restaurants and supermercados. I recommend the Cervecería (San Martin 320, El Chaltén, Santa Cruz 9301), a homie feeling log cabin restaurant that serves up comfort food and local, artisanal beer. A park ranger station is available at the entrance of town and all hikes start directly off main street, San Martin. Don’t miss Laguna de los Tres, a four-hour breathtaking trail that traverses mountains, the windswept landscapes common in Patagonia, beautiful riverbeds, and ends on a rocky mountain top with a hidden lake.
If you’re looking for a more low key option be sure to check out Chorrillo del Salto, a meandering path that leads to a stunning waterfall and crystal clear river flowing beneath. Fun fact about El Chaltén, the stream and lake water is completely potable!
So next time you’re dreaming of Patagonia but worrying about the expense, stop! While the plane ticket may be a tad pricy the free trails and beautiful landscapes are calling. So in the spirit of seeing new places and exploring, buen viaje y disfrute Patagonia!